New Word Wednesday: Zeugma

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week (thanks to Kelly for showing me this one!). Once again, it’s about words:


Zeugma noun

  • a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g. John and his license expired last week), or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g. with weeping eyes and hearts).

Compare to syllepsis, which as basically the same definition, because English is confusing.

Origin: late Middle English, from ancient Greek ζεῦγμα, zeûgma, “a yoking together”


The Wikipedia article talks about the many conflicting definitions for zeugma and syllepsis, and it seems no one has actually cleared up which word applies to which usage. Some flavors of wordplay:

  • Using a single word in relation to two other parts of a sentence, even though the word only grammatically or logically applies to one. For example, “They saw lots of thunder and lightning” (since one can’t actually see thunder), or “He works his work, I mine” (since “I works mine” is ungrammatical).
  • Using a single word with two other parts of a sentence such that it must be understood differently in relation to each. For example, “give neither counsel nor salt til you are asked for it”, or “You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.”
  • Broader definitions can include any case where a single word governs two or more other parts of a sentence, such as in “Lust conquered shame; audacity, fear; madness, reason.” Spelled out in full, the sentence would read “Lust conquered shame; audacity conquered fear; madness conquered reason.”


There are other fun versions, with names like diazeugma, hypozeugma, prozeugma, mesozeugma…there are plenty of ways to categorize wordplay.

So! Got any fun zeugmas (zeugmae, perhaps?) to share?






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